Ramona Mar collects stories for a living.
Growing up in BC, she was never told about the experiences of the Chinese Canadians before her – not that they were forced to pay the poll tax to come to Canada, not that they were banned from entering for 24 years, not that their hard work was The country was linked by railroads, not hundreds of people who fought in the world wars despite being stripped of their citizenship.
“I don’t know that history. I’m not grieving over it, I’m just saying someone should have taught me about it, that my ancestors existed as part of Canadian culture.”
It’s this history that makes her efforts to take over Vancouver’s Chinatown all the more important today.
As part of the Chinatown Storytelling Centre’s content and programming team, Mar talks to the founders of the community, the people who broke down barriers, the families of the people who ran the grocery store or worked in a laundromat or started a tofu business there.
Each story fascinates Mar, each recounting how she presents the history of Chinatown at the Storytelling Center. Opening in November 2021, it is the first permanent physical space where the experiences and contributions of Chinese Canadians in Vancouver are celebrated and recognized.
About 15,000 people have gone through it so far, and Marr says that when she organizes tours, she always starts them the same way: by asking tourists what their immigration stories are.
“Unless you’re Aboriginal, you have stories of Aboriginal migration.”
It’s an important reminder to give people, Mar said. At some point, everyone is a new immigrant to what is now Canada. Chinese Canadians are also settlers.
“We want to be seen as fully Canadian, not ‘here’s your place, here’s your place’ multicultural.” No, we’re gold rush Canadians because our ancestors came Here, everything changes. “
Carol Lee, co-founder of the Storytelling Center, said this recognition and understanding were some of the goals in creating the space.
“Education is the path to peaceful coexistence.”
It’s not about making anyone feel like they need to apologize — being a Chinese immigrant is tough everywhere, not just in Canada — but about celebrating and revitalizing the vibrant self-made community of Chinese Canadians, she said .
“for me, [Chinatown] Really a material legacy of that sacrifice and contribution. “
Both women said they hope the center will help non-Chinese Canadians better understand their country’s history and help Chinese Canadians feel a sense of pride.
“I want them to know that these guys came before you. That’s their contribution,” Marr said.
Exhibitions and events at the center can be found at chinatownstorytellingcentre.org.
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